Apr 08

Fear Factor: Hiking Alone in the Woods

A recent morning at one of my favorite hiking spots.

I like to go on hikes, mostly short ones down woodsy trails (someday I’ll remember to bring toilet paper with me, and the hikes will get longer). Sometimes I go with other people, but usually I end up going alone because A, I’m a morning person, which is apparently a rare and wondrous thing, almost by way of being a miracle; B, I enjoy hiking way more than most people I know; and C, sometimes I just like to go alone. It’s like mobile meditation. Because of this, I frequently end up alone in the woods.

Though I usually go hiking alone, I often encounter other hikers. Couples and families, typically, but lone hikers too. And the solitary hikers are almost always male. (Only once have I ever seen another woman by herself; I felt like inventing a secret handshake with her.) I’m quite certain that is not coincidental. And it’s not like women don’t enjoy hiking. But by and large, the truth is that they are afraid to go alone. I know that fear. I have it sometimes myself, when I see a man walking toward me on a path or feel him walking up behind me or come upon a structure that would make a good hiding place. I’m aware of the potential for violence against my person. I feel the fear that awareness creates. AND IT PISSES ME OFF.

It angers me that simply by being a female, I am a potential target of violence, like if I somehow made myself look like a man (I have no clue how I would accomplish that, considering my body type, but I’m just sayin’), I would almost cease to become a target, even though the space I take up and my behavior would remain the same.

It angers me, yes. But it also makes me determined. I will not give in to that fear. I won’t. Not just because most men are, in normal circumstances, perfectly decent people, but also because a life lived in fear is not worth living. Yes, I am cautious, and I evaluate each person I encounter, watch the signals they’re sending, watch their behavior (ignoring their appearance when possible; bad guys don’t look like bad guys, usually, which is how they get close enough to their victims to inflict harm). How nice it must be to not have to evaluate every stranger of the opposite sex for violence potential. But I’m a woman; I don’t have that luxury.

When my instincts send up a red flag, I respect it and stay the hell away from the trigger, whether it be a person or a situation. So far, that system has worked effectively; I’m still breathing unassisted. (Side note: I strongly recommend the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. Title notwithstanding, it will clue you in on how to identify which of your interpersonal fears are reasonable and which are not and what to do about them.)

So yes. I feel the fear that other women feel. I respect it. I listen to it. But I will not allow it to rule me. This is my planet too. I belong here. I have a right to go places by myself, and I WILL. I’m not going to stay locked up in a box, or feel that I have to rely on someone else to keep me safe, just because the world sometimes seems frightening and intimidating. And fear is a funny thing: the more you face it, the more it shrinks down to its right size.

Facing fear is choosing life. I choose life.

1 comment

  1. Meagan

    We all need to be cautious, but I agree that you need to do what you love. I wish I lived close to you so I could go hiking with you! It is very frustrating to constantly be told not to do this or that, because it isn’t safe for a woman to do it alone.

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